It can take 30 seconds, or it can be an ordeal of form-filling and unnecessary explaining. Guy Woodward checks out checking in
Of all the hotel check-ins I’ve negotiated across the globe, all the lobbies in which I’ve lingered, there is one that stands out as by far the most efficient, stress-free and altogether pleasant experience. Sure, the plywood desk and purple decor lack a little charm, and the lingering smell of the fried breakfast is a touch pervasive, but for pure efficiency of service, the Premier Inn Birmingham South (Hall Green branch) is the non pareil.
There is no small talk at this resolutely budget hotel (there are 750 of them in the chain), no awkward offers of help with luggage and the associated concerns over tipping, and – hallelujah – no forms to fill in. All your details have been logged online in advance, meaning that 10 seconds after saying ‘Hi, the name’s Woodward,’ I have my key, and 30 seconds after that, I’m in my room. Alone. (I gather there are self-service kiosks at the chain’s larger properties, though I’m not sure I approve. I may not want small talk, but I am paying for a modicum of service – what’s next, a DIY Ikea bed to assemble in the room?)
We want to check in, not make friends
Too many hotels fail to understand the paramount element of the check-in procedure – speed. Most guests will have been travelling for hours, are likely feeling a bit icky and are even more likely desperate for the loo. At this stage, we don’t want to make friends. And we certainly don’t want to sit down for a chat. Basically we just want to get to our room – and, more specifically, the bathroom. Instead, though, travellers are compelled to answer all manner of questions that could have been posed on any of the 67 days since we made the reservation (and would, come to think of it, have made for a nice little reassuring interlude to build vacation anticipation). Car registration, passport details, credit card number, choice of newspaper, time of wake-up call, type of morning coffee, scheduling of back rub etc etc. All of which is very nice, just not now. And don’t even get me started on the 10-minute in-room tour and overview of the air-conditioning system, statement lighting and iPad controls (the drawn-out, kill-me-now nature of which is rivalled only by the interminably painful process favoured by the car-hire industry).
Check-in sets the tone at a hotel. It should be a quick arm around the shoulder that then ushers you to your cosy enclave. Some places, though, seem to prefer to get you into a headlock and detain you for as long as possible, meaning you’re tetchy with them before you’ve even found that the hairdryer in your room isn’t working. At The Franklin, in London, they sit you down at a communal table (most definitely NOT a desk) in the open lobby-cum-living-room because ‘we like to think of it as a home, not a hotel’. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to think of it as a hotel. The whole point of travelling is that I’m not at home.
A supermodel in six-inch heels towering over you…
Communal, informal check-ins are all a bit too cool for school. Aside from the lack of privacy, I want to know I’ve arrived, not wandered into a private party by mistake. They also tend to lead to guests asking themselves the one question that’s worse than wondering if you’re rich enough to be staying here. Namely wondering if you’re cool enough. At Andaz hotels (part of the Hyatt group), you’re greeted by a ‘host’, aka a statuesque supermodel towering over you in six-inch heels, holding an iPad – a sight which is in no way conducive (as I think is the intention) to making you feel part of cool set. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Meadowood, in California’s Napa Valley, has it right. Its lobby is a separate cabin, perfect for hanging out, with the added appeal of a constant supply of cookies and fresh lemonade (or apple cider in the winter). Most beautiful lobby, meanwhile, goes to the Peninsula Paris, with its Lasvit glass leaf sculpture (main pic) – though its Beverly Hills outpost is more worthy of mention, with LAX-based concierges to greet guests and whisk them off to the hotel in one of its fleet of cars, conducting check-in en route.
Scouring the undergrowth in search of reception
You have to shell out for such service, of course, but few experiences set such a stress-free tone as an airport pick-up. Touching down in Cancun after a ten-hour flight, a beer on the way to Rosewood Mayakoba in our air-conditioned Merc was followed, as per our in-car order, by margaritas when we arrived – delivered on napkins monogrammed with our respective initials. By the time we got to our room, a) we were already rather jolly, and b) our luggage was there ahead of us (rather than, as in some cases, having to wait so long for it to be delivered that you might as well have dragged it there yourself). All of which made for a stark contrast with Esencia down the road where, after our cab dropped us off, we were left to cart our luggage through a maze-like jungle of pathways, scouring the undergrowth in the vain hope of locating reception. At the similarly sprawling Forte Village in Sardinia, we were guided to a lounge where we sat for an eternity before, having reminded them of our presence, it transpired we were staying in a different part of the resort entirely, with its own separate check-in facility. Cue a five-minute golf cart ride, another batch of introductions, checks and form-filling, before we finally got to our room 45 minutes after arriving. No such drama at the serene La Reserve Paris, where they take you straight to your room to do the necessary paperwork – a far more civilised experience. Which, ultimately, is all anyone wants from check-in.
Top 5 Lobby Experiences
The Peninsula Paris
There aren’t many hotel lobbies where I like to hang out, but with its entrancing glass sculpture and intriguing comings and going, there is something bewitching about this space on Avenue Kléber.
Imbued with the wine country charm of the surrounding Napa Valley, with drinks and snacks on tap, you feel healthier just by being here.
The Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech
Set around a glistening pond, and looking out to the Atlas mountains, manicured gardens and golf course, and an expansive pool complex, if you don’t immediately relax on arrival here, you never will
Ace Hotel, New York
If you like a buzzy, convivial hotel lobby, this is your spot. Cool, eclectic and edgy, it encapsulates the energy of the city.
Premier Inn Birmingham South (Hall Green)
From check-in to room within 30 seconds. Need I say more?